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Tracking Tropical Cyclone Wilma

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been closely monitoring Tropical Cyclone Wilma, which developed in the Pacific over the weekend and is intensifying as it forecasted to pass over American Samoa this evening. According to the National Weather Service, Wilma currently has sustained winds of up to 60 miles per hour and is forecasted to reach hurricane strength as it approaches the islands. A storm warning, flash flood watch and high surf warnings are all in effect for American Samoa, and a hurricane warning has been issued for the islands of Tutuila and Aunuu.

FEMA staff in our region IX office in Oakland, California and our Pacific Area Office in Honolulu, are in constant communication  with the American Samoa Emergency Operations Center in Pago Pago.  Although there has been no request for federal assistance yet, we have aircraft on standby and teams ready to deploy with help if needed.

We urge all individuals in the region to listen to NOAA Weather Radio and their local news to monitor for updates and directions provided by their local officials.  For those of you on Twitter, you can follow #Samoa and #cyclonewilma for updates on the storm, and as always, you can follow both Administrator Fugate @craigatfema and @FEMA for the latest information.

As we continue to track the storm and support local officials as they prepare for landfall Wilma it is an important reminder that tropical storms aren’t limited to hurricane season. Tropical storms and other types of severe weather can occur year-round.  FEMA encourages individuals to do your part to be prepared. If you haven’t already, visit www.ready.gov and learn how you can protect your homes, families and communities from severe storms and other hazards.

What We’re Watching: 1/21/11

Potential Severe Weather
Much of New England is forecasted to experience heavy snowfall into early this evening, and the Great Lakes are expected to have lake-effect snow into tomorrow.  In the Pacific Northwest, there is a chance for rain and mountain snow.  Our regional offices will be in close coordination with our state and local partners in case any needs arise. (See the National Weather Service precipitation forecast for the U.S.)

Georgia “Get Ready” Blog
Severe winter weather has been prevalent in 2011, with several storms affecting the eastern part of the country.  Here’s a recent post on the “Get Ready” blog, hosted by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency – sharing the importance of being prepared for the next winter storm.

Establishment of the John D. Solomon Preparedness Award
In November of last year, the emergency management team lost a valuable member of our team with the passing of John Solomon.  John was a champion for emergency preparedness, founding the leading “In Case of Emergency” blog and participating in his local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in New York City, NY. 

Last week, the New York City Office of Emergency Management announced the creation of the John D. Solomon Emergency Preparedness Award, honoring a CERT member who demonstrates outstanding dedication to the program.

A social media week
Social media and emergency management was a frequent topic of conversation the past week.  In case you missed it, here are a few blog posts on the hot topic:

  • Video of Administrator Fugate’s Keynote Speech on Social Media
  • Wired, Twitter, and Beyond: Social Media and Disaster Response
  • "Don’t Make the Public Fit How We Do Business"
  • Leveraging volunteer groups and technology
  • Social Media + Emergency Management: Talking with Tech Leaders on the West Coast

Wired, Twitter, and Beyond: Social Media And Disaster Response

Remember last week when the Administrator was on the West Coast meeting with tech companies to talk about social media, technology, emergency management, and ways to better assist the public in getting prepared, by using the tools they use on a daily basis?

Well two of the places Craig visited were Wired Magazine and Twitter. During his visit to Wired, Craig recorded a podcast. It’s up and you can listen to it on their website.

And here’s a quick video Craig filmed after his meeting with Twitter.



Let us know what you think in the comments below.

"Don’t Make the Public Fit How We Do Business"

Author: 

On the heels of his trip to the West Coast to meet with representatives of Twitter, Apple, Facebook and Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist), yesterday Administrator Fugate made the keynote address at the 2011 ESRI Federal User Conference here in Washington, DC.

The Administrator talked about the importance of leveraging the tools that people use every day, specifically social media, so that FEMA can better communicate with our customers – the American people. We hope to have the full video of his remarks available soon (and will post it here on the blog).

After his remarks, Craig sat down with a few reporters to talk about where the agency is headed. You can check out those stories on InformationWeek and NextGov.

A quote from one of the stories really sums up Craig’s philosophy:

"Don't make the public fit how we do business," he said he tells his staff and other federal personnel. "It's a disaster. Your home's been destroyed. Do you need any more hassles?"

So at FEMA we continue to work to better fit how the public does things. If you have any suggestions on how we can better accomplish that goal, please leave a comment below.

And if you’re not already, you can follow FEMA on twitter (@fema) or you can follow Craig on twitter (@CraigatFEMA) – help us continue the conversation.

- Brad

Plaquemines Parish, La., schools are returning

Last week, I had the pleasure of celebrating a momentous event - a ribbon cutting for the first completed, FEMA-funded school in Plaquemines Parish, our Learning Center in Port Sulphur, La. Designed as a safe-haven for students with challenges, the Learning Center fulfills an important, state-mandated need for the residents of our Parish. 

Like much of the Gulf Coast, Plaquemines was hit hard by Katrina, and the hurricane destroyed not one, not two, but five of the schools we have here.  However, with the help of FEMA and the state, I can proudly say that we are building back better than before, creating elevated, storm-resistant buildings that will last us for generations.

Every day, people see the pilings being driven, and I receive phone calls from former residents saying they are returning to Plaquemines - they are bringing their children home. Our children will soon be learning in state-of-the-art schools. I cannot stress enough that this is the result of the greatest working relationship with FEMA I’ve ever known. They have worked unbelievably hard to help us rebuild something so critical to our community.

- Denis

Learn more about FEMA’s ongoing recovery efforts to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and our Louisiana Recovery Office.

Editor’s Note: As Administrator Fugate pointed out in his inaugural blog post, this blog is a way for us to directly communicate with other members of the emergency management team, a team that includes the local leaders.  The post above is from our first guest contributor, Denis Rousselle, the Plaquemines Parish School Board Superintendent. 

FEMA staff recently participated in the dedication of the newly rebuilt Plaquemines Parish School Board Learning Center.

Port Sulphur, LA, January 10, 2011 -- FEMA staff recently participated in the dedication of the newly rebuilt Plaquemines Parish School Board Learning Center. FEMA provided over $6.2 million in public assistance grants to rebuild this unique educational facility that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Ray Perez/FEMA.

Leveraging volunteer groups and technology

In case you missed it, I wanted to share a recent story by the Christian Science Monitor highlighting Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK). A Random Hacks of Kindness is where developers and tech-savvy volunteers come together for a weekend to develop software solutions for challenges facing humanity. Imagine that, hacking for good.

As the Christian Science Monitor article notes, last year, Administrator Fugate challenged the group to create a mobile phone application where disaster survivors could tell friends and relatives that they are OK – without overwhelming the cell phone service capacity needed for emergency responders. Earlier this winter, FEMA again challenged Random Hacks of Kindness to build off the Administrator’s idea and create a comprehensive mobile application that could update friends and family on a variety of channels simultaneously.

At FEMA, we often refer to the importance of engaging the entire "emergency management team" in building America’s ability to prepare, respond, and recover from disasters. Crisis Commons and Crisis Mappers are volunteer technology groups that come together to support crises and provide technology solutions. As volunteers focused on solving problems related to emergency management, they are a critical member of this team – and a great example of how we can leverage technology, collaboration, and creativity to strengthen our resiliency.

An encouraging trend in emergency management is the formation of volunteer technology communities where tech folks come together in their community before a disaster and discuss their skill sets, needs, and possible projects. This way if a disaster occurs in their community, they can get to work right away because the relationships and networks have already been established ahead of time.

If you're part of your local volunteer tech community or you’re thinking of starting a group near you, what challenges and successes have you experienced?

- Shayne

What we’re watching: 1/14/11

Pacific Northwest severe weather

The Pacific Northwest is experiencing heavy precipitation as severe weather rolls through the area. In areas of lower elevation, heavy rain is expected through the weekend, with the possibility of localized flooding. Higher elevations may experience significant levels of snowfall.

Our regional office in Seattle, Washington is in close contact with state and local officials in case any needs arise. Throughout the weekend, we urge residents in affected areas to track local news and weather reports and follow the guidance of local officials.

Northeast cleanup efforts

After this week’s blizzard in the Southeast and Northeast parts of the country, our regional offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Atlanta are closely coordinating with state and local officials as the snow removal efforts continue. No requests for federal assistance have been made at this time – learn more about FEMA’s role in winter weather in this blog post.

National Hurricane Center on Facebook

If you’re a Facebook user, check out one of the newest pages out there: the National Hurricane Center. They are a close partner, especially during hurricane season (June 1 – November 30). The page currently features some photos from a FEMA training course held this week, so check it out.

Portland rescue shows importance of fire escape plan

Home fires are more prevalent in winter than any other season. After responding to a fire call on Wednesday evening, Portland Fire & Rescue (Oregon) put out the following on Twitter:

Thanks to the family making a fire escape plan, and practicing it frequently, the fire only caused minor injuries and some household damage. Take time with your family this weekend and practice your fire escape plan. If you don’t have one, visit the United States Fire Administration website (or their kids’ site) to get started.

In a tragic fire-related story, three people died in a home fire in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but reports indicate the home did not have smoke alarms. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

For winter fire safety tips, visit the U.S. Fire Administration’s website.

Social Media + Emergency Management: Talking with Tech Leaders on the West Coast

Author: 

Yesterday I had a very productive day in California talking about social media, technology, emergency management, and ways to assist the public in getting prepared, by using the tools they use on a daily basis. Check out this short video to see who I met with:



In addition to meeting with fellow “Craig”, Craig Newmark (the founder of Craigslist), I also met with editors from Wired Magazine, Twitter, Apple and Facebook.

Some of the things we discussed included:

  • The need to provide information to the public as data feeds, because they are a key member of our emergency management team;
  • The importance of referring to people impacted by a disaster as survivors and utilizing them as a resource; 
  • The importance of providing good customer service; and 
  • How we, as emergency managers, need to stop trying to have the public fit into our way of doing things and receiving information, but that we should fit the way the public gets, receives and seeks out information.

There are a lot of discussions and conversations taking place about social media, text messaging, etc, and how these tools can be used before, during, and after a disaster. 

There’s no question that these tools have already changed the field of emergency management – and will continue to. As emergency managers, we will have to be flexible and agile and quickly adapt as new technologies and communications tools emerge. What’s exciting is that these new tools, if we embrace them and leverage them effectively, will continue to help us better serve our customers – the public.

As the conversation continues, and as you use these tools on a daily basis, there are things that you can today do to prepare yourself, your family members, and your colleagues at work. 

Communicating during or after an emergency
How are you communicating with each other if a disaster or emergency occurs?  Are you going to call each other, send an email, text message, or update each other via a social network site? The disaster or emergency could be something like a blackout in your city or a school closure; all disasters aren’t large earthquakes or hurricanes.

Receiving updates on your phone
How are you receiving updates from local officials? Have you signed up for text message or email alerts?  If you’re on Facebook, did you know that you can signup to receive text message updates from Facebook pages you follow?  If you are a fan of FEMA on Facebook or your local emergency management agency, you can receive our update as a text message right on your phone (and just like with any text message, standard rates apply).

Leverage Twitter without creating an account
And here’s another small tip: if you are thinking about using Twitter, did you know you can receive text messages updates from someone you’re following without having to create an account?  For example, if you wanted to receive our updates as a text message to your phone, just text FOLLOW FEMA to 40404 (this is Twitter’s text message number and of course, standard text message rates apply --- the lawyers require me to repeat this).  You can do the same for your local emergency management agency.

Our meetings in California generated great discussions and ideas and I’m excited to explore how we can move forward on them. In the meantime, I’d like to hear how you use these and other social network sites to communicate with friends and family before or during an emergency, so we can all utilize these tools to fullest capability, so please leave a comment below, or visit our ongoing challenge at www.challenge.gov/fema and submit your ideas.

- Craig

How can communities build resiliency? We want to hear from you

Feeling creative and interested in emergency preparedness?  Want to participate in our ongoing challenge?  We’ve got just the thing for you. 

As part of Administrator Fugate's challenge, we're looking for ideas on how your family, school, workplace or community can be better prepared before a disaster strikes.  Maybe your idea is about the best way to start a Community Emergency Response Team in your community.  Or perhaps you’d like to see preparedness information passed out in your local school system.

If you have an idea on preparedness, we’d love to hear about it.  And while you have your thinking cap on, we wanted to provide a few of the 100+ submissions that we’ve received so far (in no particular order):

I encourage you to submit your idea on Challenge.gov or send it in an e-mail.  All the submissions will be judged by FEMA leadership and the winning idea will be featured on fema.gov

So be creative, and best of luck!

And even though our Challenge is still open, maybe someone submitted an idea that you think can be implemented in your community today, so I encourage you to look at all of the submissions and share them with others.

- Shayne

About the Challenge
The deadline is January 29, 2010 and all submissions will be judged based on originality, level of community engagement, and ease of implementation.  Challenge submissions are moderated before posting to the site.

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